Late in March, at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the New York City Opera (NYCO) presented short, rare, and contrasting operas on the subject of the sculptor Pygmalion and Galatea, his statue, with whom he fell in love. The Greek myth inspired not only George Bernard Shaw (“Pygmalion”) and Lerner and Loewe (“My Fair Lady”), in the 20th century, but also the mature Jean-Philippe Rameau, in the 18th, and young Gaetano Donizetti, in the 19th. Gil Rose creditably conducted the NYCO orchestra, soloists, and chorus. Richard Stafford was the works’ director and choreographer, and designers were John Farrell (sets), Janet O’Neill (costumes), Susan Roth (lighting), and Georgianna Eberhard (wigs and make-up). The matinee performances were offered on March 24 and 25 and the latter is considered here.
Donizetti’s “Il Pigmalione” is a student work, written in 1816, and this was billed as its American premiere. The score finds Donizetti’s bel canto style already in place; reflects the considerable influence, not surprisingly, of Gioachino Rossini; and contains a fore-echo of Lucia di Lammermoor’s “Spargi d’amaro pianto.” In the tour-de-force title role, tenor Piotr Buszewski lent a flexible, mostly well-placed and agreeable tenor to elegiac laments, fiery recitatives, and cabalettas permeated by longing. He wore a contemporary artist’s work clothes and his studio was sparely hinted at. Soprano Jessica Sandige, making little more than a cameo appearance as Galatea, joined Buszewski for an impassioned duet, but never really replaced the stone statue he lavished his love on, and the opera ended abruptly.
Rameau’s opera-ballet “Pigmalion” (1748) proved the more fully-realize opus, with a graceful score. Thor Arbjornsson disclosed a delicate high tenor as the sculptor, lamenting a lack of true love and subsequently hailing its triumph. A quintet of dancing statues, in costumes of antiquity, and assorted other artists and patrons, dressed like the figures painted by Georges Seurat, populated and reveled in this Pigmalion’s ample, busy gallery. Dulcet-toned soprano Samarie Alicea, as the unnamed statue, was a living presence from the time she was unveiled, and joined in the dance. Mezzo-soprano Melanie Long made a lilting Cupid, issuing commands and blessing all the lovers, including several same-sex couples. Mezzo Julia Snowden was a sympathetic Céphise, Pigmalion’s neglected mortal love, who soon found herself another swain.
Next on tap for the company are Italo Montemezzi’s “L’Amore dei Tre Rei,” from April 12 to 15, and Charles Wuorinen’s “Brokeback Mountain,” in its American premiere, from May 31 to June 4, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Visit www.nycopera.com